On my wedding day I thought to myself, “This day would have been perfect, if only I was thinner.”
How stupid was that?
I was marrying the man I loved, who was endlessly interested in my body. I’d just found out I was pregnant with an IVF baby I thought I could never have. I was surrounded by family and friends who loved me.
But as I took my first steps down the aisle, I was thinking about my body and how much I hated it.
My wedding day wasn’t the only time when body hatred intruded into my life. Over the years I’ve avoided parties, not gone swimming, and even taken days off work because I was having a “fat day”.
I don’t want to calculate the number of hours of my life I have wasted fixated on my body and everything I thought was wrong with it.
A few years ago, I decided enough. Enough with the constant anxiety about my body. Enough with letting the number on the scales dictate the kind of day I would have.
Life was too short for body hatred. One of my dearest friends had recently died of melanoma and I realised how crazy it was to hate my body when it was the very thing keeping me alive.
It occurred to me that my body hatred wasn’t about how I looked; it was about how I felt about how I look. One day I would look in the mirror and I looked fine. In fact, some days I thought I looked hot. But yet the very next day, sometimes even on the same day, I could look in the mirror and be repulsed by my reflection.
I also noticed that I suffered the worst body hatred on the days I felt stressed and out of control. Every anxiety and stress was funnelled into a hatred for my body.
Living in a culture that’s obsessed with thin and demonises fat, I had made the mistake of thinking that we can cure body hatred by changing our bodies. I had bought into those messages and assumed that the only thing standing between me and absolute bliss on my wedding day was a couple of kilograms.
But it wasn’t my body that I needed to change. It was my thoughts.
I needed to critically examine all the messages that I had absorbed as a child and every single day since. Every time I was praised for being pretty, as if it was my most important accomplishment. Every time my friends bonded over ‘fat chat’ and how much they hated their bodies. Every message in advertising and media that tells us that women must be beautiful to be worthy. Even the ones that try to celebrate diversity still reduce us to our bodies, as though a woman’s appearance is the only thing that matters. And every body-shaming and hysterical health message quoting the discredited BMI index and demonising fat people.
I made a conscious effort not to assess other people’s bodies. I don’t comment on people’s weight or physical appearance, positively or negatively. Once I stopped judging other people, I began judging myself a whole lot less.
I chose instead to focus on the things my body can do – like carry me through life’s adventures, laugh with my friends, bear children, play with my children, have sex with my husband.
This doesn’t mean that I stopped wanting to be healthy. I eat well and exercise more than I ever have. But my motivation is different. I exercise because I respect my body and I want to care for it, not because I hate it and want to punish myself or transform it.
Still, I haven’t completely outrun my upbringing or our culture. My body hatred still regularly rears its ugly head, especially as I learned to accept my post-baby body, as I age, and on the days I feel out of my comfort zone.
Rather than finding the silver bullet to destroy body hatred, it’s more a management strategy. Each morning, I make a conscious choice not to hate my body today. Rather than waste this precious day loathing my perceived physical flaws, I will be grateful to my body for allowing me to live it.